Panthers’ Charles Johnson not 100 percent, but he will be playing

jperson@charlotteobserver.com jjones@charlotteobserver.comDecember 4, 2013 

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Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson was back on the practice field Wednesday, and while his sprained knee isn’t 100 percent yet, he says his chances of playing Sunday night at New Orleans are.

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Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson might not be back to 100 percent, but he’s close enough for his defensive teammates eager to get him back in the lineup for Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

Johnson, who has missed two games with a sprained knee, said Wednesday he expects to play against the pass-happy Saints.

“I’m still building up to (100 percent), but I’ll be good to go on Sunday,” Johnson said Wednesday. “It’s feeling good. It’s getting stronger. I’m just ready for Sunday.”

That was welcome news to cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

“It’s a big help. He’s a playmaker. The biggest thing for me is he plays on my side,” Munnerlyn said. “He always plays big in big-time games.”

Johnson sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee when New England offensive tackle Marcus Cannon leg-whipped him in the third quarter of the Panthers’ Monday night win Nov. 18.

Cannon apologized to Johnson after the game and was fined $15,750 later that week by the league office.

“It was kind of disappointing. But things happen. That’s how it goes,” Johnson said. “I was disappointed a little bit just because I wanted to be out there on the field so bad. But we’re winning. So I can’t complain.”

Johnson said he probably could have played last week against Tampa Bay, but wanted to give his knee extra time to heal. Johnson said he doesn’t think returning to the game for the Patriots’ final series made the injury worse.

“It was already messed up from the get-go. I just wanted to be out there, try to make a play,” he said. “It was hurting. But at the same time, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Johnson, who plans to wear a brace on the knee, remains the Panthers’ leader with 8.5 sacks.

“We definitely need him for this game. And we need him as close to 100 percent as we can get him,” Munnerlyn said. “We’re about to make a big run in December – to make this playoff run and hopefully to the Super Bowl.”

Injury roundup: Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, left tackle Jordan Gross and left guard Travelle Wharton all took veteran days off on Wednesday. Running back Jonathan Stewart did not participate, and tight end Ben Hartsock and Mike Tolbert were limited.

Running back DeAngelo Williams returned to practice for the first time since suffering a thigh bruise at Miami and was limited on Wednesday.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he wasn’t concerned about any of his starters.

“It was good to have some of the guys on the practice field that have been missing for a while, and we’ll see how they are tomorrow morning,” Rivera said. “As I’ve always said, you practice on Wednesday or Thursday, it’s always about how you are the next morning. They did what they were supposed to do.”

Linebacker Chase Blackburn fully participated in practice after missing three games with a foot injury. He said he felt “fantastic” and plans to start at weakside linebacker against New Orleans.

Time’s a wasting: The Saints arrived home more than 12 hours later than they expected after Monday night’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Plane trouble kept them in Seattle for an extra night.

New Orleans was already dealing with a short week before facing the Panthers, and the travel issues made it even shorter. Rivera called the situation “unfortunate” but added he expected the Saints were still prepared.

“I will say probably every one of their coaches probably had their laptops with them. They had their video directors with them and they were probably able to work,” Rivera said. “I know that one, as a position coach and coordinator I always traveled with that. Whenever there was an opportunity I’d get on to the next thing. I imagine that their coaches are creative enough that they got their work done. Believe me, in situations like this, you figure it out.”

The Saints’ schedule was thrown off slightly on Wednesday. A teleconference with coach Sean Payton and the Charlotte media was pushed to Thursday.

Rivera said he had been in a similar situation when he was a player for the Chicago Bears. After losing to the 49ers, the team had to stay in San Francisco because of snow in Chicago.

“Coach (Mike) Ditka was not in a very good mood,” Rivera recalled. “We stayed, got up early, watched the entire tape as a team and then got on the airplane and flew back. That made for a very long morning.”

Pro Bowl voting continues: Tolbert continues to lead all fullbacks in Pro Bowl voting as the sixth-year player looks to make his first trip to the game in his career.

Tolbert has 269,739 votes and has a more than 70,000-vote cushion on second place. Seven other Panthers are listed in the top 10 by positions. They are: Quarterback Cam Newton (ninth), center Ryan Kalil (fourth), middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (fourth), free safety Mike Mitchell (fourth), special teamer Jordan Senn (seventh), punt returner Ted Ginn Jr. (10th) and defensive end Charles Johnson (10th).

Fans can vote for their favorite players at nfl.com/probowl. Voting ends Dec. 26.

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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